NSRI training exercise brings Kowie River Festival to dramatic close

Two simulated rescues by members of the National Sea Rescue Institute’s Port Alfred Station 11 were a dramatic climax to the inaugural Kowie River Festival on Thursday December 28. The training exercise took place at Kiddies Beach and south of the adjacent caravan park.

In the first exercise, two NSRI volunteers held CPR manikins as they floated on their backs in the mini-lake that forms at Kiddies Beach at high tide. The rescue crew arrived from the Station 11 based on an inflatable boat and rescue swimmers immediately went to retrieve the two drowning casualties. On bringing them to shore, they started CPR on the manikins.

Teamwork kicked in as pairs of volunteers did chest compressions and applied ambubags (manual rescuscitators) in the ratio of 30:2, swapping roles after a few cycles.

Another member of the team was in constant radio communication with the base, as they requested an ambulance, trauma board and conveyed information essential for further support.

Meanwhile, it emerged that a second simulated incident had occurred just around the corner: the set-up situation was that a man had fallen off the broken wall at the south end of the Willows Caravan Park and on to the rocks below.

The coxswain had stopped the boat several metres from the shore to avoid damaging its bottom on the sharp rocks just below the surface.

There were loose bricks where the wall had crumbled; the man was wedged between jagged rocks; a broken four-metre fence leaned dangerously over rescuers and patient and somehow the crew had to get the man (and themselves) safely from the rocks to the boat.

Frankly, it looked impossible.

The teamwork required for that rescue exercise was even more intense, as members made the site as safe as they could, assessed the “patient”, strapped him to a trauma board and carried him metre by metre to the boat.

It was extraordinary to watch the team literally hold a man’s life in their hands: strapped to the trauma board, there would have been nothing he could do if they’d accidentally dropped him – either on to the rocks or into the water.

They didn’t drop him, or each other, as they communicated constantly with each other about their next move, each time holding him securely as they shifted their position on the sharp, uneven rocks below the water, to bring him closer and closer to the boat.

They also communicated constantly with their “patient”, asking him if he was okay.

Finally they got patient and all but two of the crew on board and headed back to the base, half a kilometre upriver.

Afterwards, back at the base, “patients” and rescuers debriefed: what they’d done and why, and whether there were any improvements they could make the next time: possibly in a real rescue.


More about NSRI volunteer training (source: nsri.org.za)

As an emergency rescue service operating on South African waters, the NSRI’s volunteer crew are required to achieve, master and maintain a wide range of skills to perform their lifesaving work in often very diverse scenarios.

To achieve this, each station around the country hosts regular training sessions for its crew. From time to time stations host each other for training and collaboration sessions, where knowledge and skills are shared.

The NSRI’s training team visits each station at least once a year to perform on-site training and also holds regular structured three-day training courses, including coxswain assessment courses, at their Training Academy in Cape Town.

“Staying current through agility and adaptability led to the development of our eLearning Academy, an online portal where volunteers can attend virtual training classes in theoretical aspects of rescue,” the NSRI explains on their website nsri.org.za. “With crew sustainability in mind, we also introduced an intensive shorter-form full-time rescue course that allows volunteers to achieve their crew badges and join a station.”

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